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Sources Say House Dems Could Begin Public Hearings By Mid- November; Republicans Storm Hearing Some Of Them Already Had Access To; Trump Claims Great Outcome In Syria. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired October 24, 2019 - 10:00   ET




POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: Top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. Jim Sciutto is on assignment.

And this morning in Congress, Republicans are pushing for a more open impeachment process and Democrats say they're working on making that happen, hoping to end the behind-the-scenes stage of their impeachment inquiry with a vote, potentially by Thanksgiving. Some members of the Republican Party though not waiting at all, roughly two dozen of them protested the impeachment process by forcing their way into the secure room where testimony was taking place yesterday.

Important to note, around half of those who supposedly stormed that room were already allowed to be inside. They are members of the relevant committees, which means they can cross-examine witnesses as much as they want. A source says President Trump was aware of this plan. He met with some of the lawmakers involved at the White House the day before.

Meanwhile, his allies in the White House are urging the president to get on board with a unified impeachment response with mixed results.

Let's begin on Capitol Hill. Our Senior Congressional Correspondent, Manu Raju, joins me now.

Did they achieve anything, Manu, by doing this?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're trying to shine spotlight on the process that they consider to be unfair. I just spoke to a number of some Republican senators about what Bill Taylor testified about, the very damning testimony from earlier this week saying that he was told that President Trump had had wanted that vital Ukrainian aid to be withheld in exchange for announcing investigations that could help him politically.

Two Republican, key Republican senators who I just spoke with essentially pushed back on that. Lindsey Graham, the very close ally of the president, the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman, dismissed what Bill Taylor said as hearsay. And then also Senator Kennedy, also member, John Kennedy, of the Senate Judiciary Committee said that it was just simply taken out of context. He said he wanted to see the full cross-examination that occurred behind closed doors.

So you're hearing this pushback from Republicans, one on the House side one the -- trying to go after the process, on the Senate side, not saying that they have any real serious concerns despite this revelation that the president may have sought to essentially withhold this key aid that Ukraine needed to fight back against the Russians in exchange for these investigations into the Bidens, as well as the 2016 elections, and it could help the president politically.

Now, at the same time, the House Democrats are still pressing ahead on their impeachment probe. They do try -- they are trying to wrap up their closed door depositions by this fall and potentially go into open hearings as soon as mid-November. But that could also be pushed into late November. No one really knows the exact timeframe of this to be ultimately wrapped up partly because more nature and more leads keep coming in these closed-door depositions. They have to chase down, ask for more witness interviews, ask for more records. But, nevertheless, the debate about exactly what they've learned so far is along party lines here on Capitol |Hill. Poppy?

HARLOW: All right. Manu, thanks, great reporting.

I'm pleased to be joined by Texas Democratic Congresswoman Veronica Escobar. She served in both the Judiciary and the Armed Services Committee. Thank you, Congresswoman, for joining me this morning.

REP. VERONICA ESCOBAR (D-TX): My pleasure. Good morning.

HARLOW: So what do you think? Did the American people learn more by what we saw happen yesterday afternoon with those Republican members, you know, going into the skiff when, I guess, about half of them could have been there anyways?

ESCOBAR: I think what the American people saw yesterday probably affirms the direction that we're moving in. We are with the majority of the American people who are very concerned about the sanctity of our elections, about ensuring that our national security is not put at risk. We've seen the president abuse his power in orders to try to change the outcome of the 2020 election.

And his Republican defenders, all they can do, because of how devastating the facts are, is trying to distract from the investigation, and to try to deceive the American people.

HARLOW: Here's the thing, Congresswoman, not all Republican members of the House, and a majority, frankly, do not think that the facts are devastating for the president.


A number -- there are those who have questions, Francis Rooney being one of them. We had him on the show just a few days ago. But then there are others who think the president would have been derelict in his duties for not doing what he did on that Ukraine call.

I want you to listen to Republican Congressman Jodey Arrington. I had him on last hour. Here's his argument.


REP. JODEY ARRINGTON (R-TX): The president not only did what was appropriate, he did, I think, faithfully executed his constitutional responsibility as a fiduciary taxpayer resources. And he called out a couple of high-profile cases and said, make sure that we look under every rock and make sure that you root out graft corruption before we put at risk taxpayer money to the tune of $300 million-plus. I think that's more than appropriate.


HARLOW: I laid out the facts for him after that, Congresswoman. But he says it's more than appropriate. What's your response?

ESCOBAR: That is shocking. What is so stunning to me, Poppy, is that you have a group of elected officials, members of Congress, members of the Senate, who put their loyalty to one person above their loyalty to their oath of office, their loyalty to the Constitution, their loyalty to the United States of America. We are going to continue to see especially once this investigative portion is complete and once the public hearings begin. I think we will begin to see even more and more desperation to try to explain away the facts that are very, very simple and very clear.

The president abused his power. We saw it in the memo that they released, the transcript of the call. It's been clear from that moment on. And what the politicians who support the president are calling appropriate is quite contrary to what lifelong public servants and patriots have described as, again, abuse of power.

HARLOW: Okay. He is your fellow member of Congress from Texas. Are you saying that he is being -- that he is not a patriot?

ESCOBAR: I'm saying that he's putting his loyalty to one man ahead of the loyalty we all should have to the Constitution.

Our elections are sacred, Poppy. And when we ask a foreign government and we approve of a president asking a foreign government to meddle in our elections, that should shock and stun every American.

HARLOW: Well, there was also a vote that largely got, you know, overlooked yesterday, but a really important vote on. As you know, voted on a piece of legislation, the shield act, that would help protect elections. It would mandate that any foreign interference or offer of it is directly reported to federal authorities.

But let me ask you this because you're not from a blue state, and I want to ask you about swing states. There's really an interesting New York Times/Seneca polling in the last few days. And it shows the battleground states of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida, Arizona, North Carolina. And still in those states, Congresswoman, you have a majority of Americans who oppose impeaching the president and removing him from office, 53 percent. Should that inform how Democrats continue this process? ESCOBAR: I don't think polling should inform our decision to follow our constitutional duty. I think what you will find, Poppy, as all of this gets laid out for the American people during hearings and during what will be, I think, a public process that will stun the American people because of the facts that will be laid out, I think you're going to see those numbers shift, again, not that polling should drive our decision-making, but I think you're going to see those numbers shift.

We've seen the numbers shift over the last few weeks --

HARLOW: But wouldn't you conceive the polling, and excuse me for interrupting, feel free to finish your point after, I just -- when polling is representative of how people feel, and you represent people in your districts, right? That's your job.


HARLOW: I understand that an impeachment should not be a purely polling-based decision, but isn't it informative of how your constituents are feeling?

ESCOBAR: It is. It is informative. But it shouldn't drive decision- making, I don't believe.

You know, there are times when you've got to follow your constituents, but there are times when you lead your constituents. This is one of those critical moments in American history where we have seen and witnessed such lawlessness that it threatens our national security. We cannot turn our backs to that because of polling.

And I do believe that even some of the Dems, my colleagues from very, very tough districts, from districts that they flipped and that are vulnerable to being flipped back, they are resolute in our desire to get to the truth and ensure that we do what's right for the American people.

I have full faith in what's happening right now and I believe those numbers are going to change.


HARLOW: Okay. I'd like to turn to the issue of Turkey and the situation, the ongoing situation in Northern Syria.

Yesterday, we saw the president lift all sanctions on Turkey. And let me just play his description of how this has now played out. Here we go.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: People are saying, wow, what a great outcome. Congratulations. It's too early to me to be congratulated but we've done a good job. We've saved a lot of lives.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HARLOW: Okay. The U.N. says this morning that 180,000 people have been displaced since the Turkish incursion began two weeks ago, including nearly 80,000 children. And you go no further than the front page of The New York Times this morning that has a picture of these children in a Kurdish-run prison in territory once held by ISIS, asked where their parents were, one boy said they got killed. Is the president's response appropriate?

ESCOBAR: The president is deceiving the American people. This is not a victory. This is not mission accomplished. What has happened is we have another humanitarian crisis on our hands that was driven by the president's decision. We know because the administration has acknowledged that there are war crimes that have been committed. The administration has acknowledged that ISIS fighters have been able to bust out of prison. We know that the situation there is really playing into Russia's hands. And all of this was because of the decision that the president made without consulting national security experts, without any clear strategic direction on foreign policy in one of the most volatile and important places in the world.

This is something that, again, the president to me presents the greatest national security threat to our country because of his erratic decision-making and because he puts politics and personal interests ahead of American interests.

HARLOW: Congresswoman Veronica Escobar, I appreciate your perspective on both of these important issues this morning. Thank you.

ESCOBAR: Thank you.

HARLOW: All right. So a month into the impeachment inquiry on Capitol Hill, the president is testing out some different strategies, his allies recommending that he attack the process. The question is will the president be on boards with their plan.

Boris Sanchez joins me this morning from the White House.

So, apparently, the president was informed a day earlier of Republicans' plan to sort of barge into the skiff yesterday.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Poppy. A source indicates that the president was at the least aware of what Republicans might do. And it's not really surprising considering that for several days he has publicly called on Republicans to defend him more aggressively. It's part of what we're hearing from sources is the attempt that a unified strategy from this White House and from Republicans to defend the president from the impeachment inquiry.

We understand that congressional Republicans, as well as the president's legal team have been here at the White House, counseling him, suggesting that he should abandon the idea that he's going to dissuade more moderate Democrats and districts that he won from voting for impeachment. They tell him that he should accept the likelihood that he will be impeached by the House and focus on attacking the process of impeachment, the way that Democrats are carrying this out instead of addressing the substance of actions on Ukraine. We saw some of that from Stephanie Grisham this morning. She was on Fox News. She effectively said that the White House would be better equipped to defend the president from Democrats if they were aware of what Democrats were doing behind closed doors during this impeachment inquiry testimony. Of course, that talking point is a hollow one when you consider that these are congressional committees that are hosting these hearings, and there are about 109 Republicans taking part on them, not to mention that the leadership in the Republican Party has access to these depositions, Poppy.

HARLOW: Very good point. Boris, thank you. I appreciate the reporting.

Still to come, a day after President Trump declares victory in Syria, CNN learns the U.S. may send troops and tanks into the eastern part of the country. We'll have more on their potential mission there.

Also, who's the leader? A new poll suggests Elizabeth Warren leading the pack just days after a different poll showed Joe Biden was on top.

And thousands evacuated in California as another massive wildfire burns out of control raining down ash and embers. We'll bring you a live report.



HARLOW: Democrats in Congress hoping to hold an impeachment vote by Thanksgiving, which would set up, if they vote to move forward, a trial phase of the inquiry in the Senate by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, Republicans are arguing the close part of the process. They say it's not fair even though dozens of Republicans, literally 48 Republicans on these committees are participating in the questioning in these closed hearings.

Joining me to discuss, CNN Legal Analyst Carrie Cordero as well as our Shan Wu, he is back. Good morning to both of you.

So, Carrie, in a tweet, the president is attacking attacking Bill Taylor's lawyer, obviously, you know, Bill Taylor, someone they brought out of retirement to do this job in Ukraine who testified and had some pretty explosive things to say. The president goes on to say the Republicans who don't support him are, quote, human scum.


What is your response to this strategy?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You know, Poppy, this is the type of thing that the president tweets these types of things, and we tend to, at this point, just accept them as normal. But they're really not normal. The president in this particular series of tweets was attacking not only Mr. Taylor, but he was attacking his lawyer, John Bellinger, who is an extraordinarily respected national security and international lawyer. He was a political appointee under Republican administrations. He served on the National Security Council, the State Department's legal adviser. And the reason the president is attacking him is because he's doing the job of a lawyer. He's representing Mr. Taylor in his proceeding before the Congress.

And so this really goes, it's one of these criticisms that goes to the core of the president's attacks on things that are related to the rule of law. When you're attacking, as he often does, journalists, when you're attacking lawyers for doing their job, he's attacking things that go to the fabric of our upholding of the law and having a legal system that functions and people are entitled to have attorneys.

HARLOW: Of course they are. Also, beyond the president, Shan, many Republicans in Congress including one we just had on the program last hour, are attacking the process. They're saying it's unfair. They're saying it's shrouded in secret. They're saying history doesn't allow us to do this, and this has never happened before. It's not true. I mean, look at the Select Committee on Benghazi.

And explain to people how this is different than the Nixon and the Clinton impeachment in terms of the facts or evidence or report that they were presented with back then that they don't have now.

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So the benefit that Congress had with Nixon and the Clinton impeachment was the special prosecutor there in Whitewater, it was called the independent counsel, had the benefit, gave Congress the benefit of an extended investigation done as a private investigation, lots of interviews, and they got the benefit of that.

However, here, the Mueller investigation was not about this issue.

HARLOW: Right.

WU: And they didn't -- first of all, we didn't have the full benefit of the Mueller investigation. But so therefore, Congress is having to move quickly on a brand-new issue, and that's why they have to hold these sorts of private hearings or depositions.

HARLOW: Do you -- do they have to, Carrie? Is there any salience to the argument that some Republicans are making that this should all be done in the light of day?

CORDERO: No. It's pretty common actually in -- the investigations, congressional investigations that involve national security when they're at the early stages of an investigation, to do it behind closed doors. As long as they have equal access to members of both parties, I would think the Republicans would have a legitimate argument if they were being excluded from these depositions and interviews. But they're not being excluded. Members are there, I believe, congressional staff are there. They have opportunities to question the witnesses, and so there's nothing untoward about the process. They have equal access to the witnesses, and that's the most important part.

HARLOW: And from our reporting, those Republican members of oversight, intel, and foreign affairs are very involved in this questioning behind closed doors.

On another note, weigh in on this. I'll begin with you, Shan. You've got an Appeals Court argument over the president's tax records. And attorneys for the president and the Manhattan D.A. argued yesterday over the scope of immunity. How broads is presidential immunity? The District Attorney's Office asked if the president pulled out a handgun and shot someone on Fifth Avenue -- wonder where they got that from -- would we have to wait for the impeachment hearings to do anything about it?

The judge then put the question to the president's attorney who essentially said, correct, the president can't be charged in office. Is the president's attorney right and how do you think the Supreme Court will see this when that broader question of presidential immunity, if it goes up?

WU: Right. Well, in a broad sense, common sense tells us he's totally wrong, particularly in that ridiculous hypothetical that the attorney chose to base on the president's ridiculous hypothetical that he raised in the campaign.

A violent crime like that, I can't imagine that the president's going to be immune from it. If it did go to the Supreme Court, I can't imagine they would agree either.

However, realistically, what's going to the Supreme Court is more nuanced and much more complicated. They're going to have to slice and dice what actions took place within the time he was president, what actions might fall under executive privilege and have to weigh that and balance it against what's necessary for the public disclosure.

So in reality, these questions of would turning over his tax returns somehow compromise his ability to lead the country, those are nuanced questions which ultimately will be resolved by the court, but not in this simplistic manner.

HARLOW: And to Jay Sekulow's argument from the White House, Carrie, he says, look, there is no due process here, et cetera. Let's remind people what a Senate trial and an impeachment looks like.


CORDERO: Right. So what we're going through right now on the impeachment process in the House is more akin to a grand jury proceeding. So there's depositions, it's behind closed doors, it's taking of evidence. If the House were to vote and then it would be transferred over to the Senate, then the president would have much more ability for his legal team to be able to mount a defense to the charges of impeachment.

So there is a process here. At some point, these three committees that are doing this current part of the investigation are going to need to figure out how they're going to transfer that information to the broader House to be able to develop articles of impeachment.

But let's not, you know -- we know what the Republican defenders of the president are doing here. They're attacking the process because they have no defense on the substance of Ambassador Taylor's testimony yesterday.

HARLOW: Some of them do. We just had one on the program last hour who said it's wholly appropriate, the phone call that the president had. We'll keep having the conversation. Carrie, thank you. Shan, I appreciate it.

We do have some breaking news into us. We have learned that more American troops and tanks may be headed to Eastern Syria, just one day after President Trump celebrated withdrawal from another part of the Syria, the very latest on that. We have a reporter in the region, next.